xe may convert!

Last week, I got a rare treat: the opportunity to hang out with someone who has known me for more than 7 months! Much to her parents' dismay and my joy, I got to play host to my good friend from college, Ms. Mel Vanden Berg, who braved the hazards of jet-lag, severely lowered bank accounts, and heat-stroke to make her first trip outside the United States a trip to Viet Nam! :).

I realized right away that it was amazing to be with someone who knows me. But I also realized that living in Viet Nam for 7 months just might change a person, too. For instance, I have all these crazy words floating around in my head that make their way into my speech, disguising themselves among my English phrases as though they belong there. But--contrary to popular belief--only a minute percentage of the world's population speaks my variety of Vinglish, and Mel is not one of those people.

However, I knew that, even with my best attempts at speaking proper American English for a week, there were a few Vietnamese words that would slip their way in--they just can't help it anymore. So I figured I'd better teach Mel a few of the most essential words...Like xe may. In my head, a xe may is a xe may is a xe may..."motorbike" just doesn't cut it. What are those little, amazing machines--that any boy will tell you are not, technically speaking, motorcycles (something about the position of the engine...) and that can carry a ever-surprising number of people and cases of beer--that flood the streets of Viet Nam? Xe may. There is just no other correct term. So, I taught Mel the word. Two days later, we rented one for the day, and it didn't take her anything like the whole day to fall in love with this mode of transportation.

I think this was both of our favorite part of our trip to Hue (a city in central Vietnam): riding xe may at our leisure (which might sometimes have been as fast as possible) on this scenic loop between the perfume river and the China Sea:Yep, it was a struggle at times to keep my eyes on the road. But Mel was a very good passenger. She frantically grabbed my waist surprisingly infrequently.

When we got back to Hanoi, we also did a fair amount of driving around on xe may.
Usually in traffic like this:
However, we did managed to detatch ourselves from our xe may and do some other stuff while she was here. While in Hue, we wandered around the "ancient" citadel.

Hue was the royal capital of Vietnam during the time of the fuedal lords and French colonization, and this complex was built during that time, in the mid-1800s. After the revolution, these magnificent old buildings were seen as the vestiges of the "feudal regime" and were allowed to fall into ruin. Only relatively recently have they begun to be restored, and the citadel and its complex of idyllic gardens and temples is now considered a "must-see" in Vietnam.

In Hue, we also treated/subjected ourselves to hour-long beatings at a highly-recommended massage place. Yeah, wikitravel is straight-up wrong sometimes! Fortunately, the experience was theraputic in that we laughed about it all the way home (and it was a long walk!).

When we got back to Hanoi, we went to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum at night--something I've always wanted to do. It is lit up and really pretty, and there are always people milling around the perfectly manicured squares of grass in front of it (notice i said milling around--no one would ever, ever actually step on Uncle Ho's grass).

We ate supper with my host family at my house (sorry, it's hard to get all five storys in one picture, but you get the idea):

We did some really normal things, too--just Vietnam style. Like drink a lot of gorgeously cheap coffee. Another thing Mel got used to quickly (and learned the Vietnamese word for)--caphe nau da. Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk...

We even had a random Calvin XC reunion:

At the beginning of the trip, I asked Mel to point out things that she noticed and thought were crazy, because it's funny to see how many things I have gotten used to. On the first day she noticed that it's quite common to get one's hair cut by the side of the road, like this:

Then there was a funny moment when we were driving xe may on the highway, and I saw a sign that I couldn't figure out. Eventually, I did, though, and was shocked to realize that Viet Nam actually has speed limits--who would have ever guessed?! Mel reminded me that most people wouldn't have guessed--they would have actually assumed this. Oh. Right.

All-in-all, it was a great time. Totally worth the fact that my throat was hoarse from talking so much... :)

Mel, thanks for flying to the other side of the world to see me and then indulging my xe may obsession!


  1. I love caphe nau da, I just didn't know that is what it is called. I just called it Vietnamese iced coffee. You will need to teach me how to correctly pronounce it when you get back. Auntie M

  2. awww- so awesome! I think my parents would have a heart attack if I rode on an Xe May : )